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Moreover, it reacts readily with moisture, releasing highly toxic hydrofluoric acid.

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The bulk of waste from the enrichment process is depleted uranium–so-called because most of the uranium-235 has been extracted from it. It was incorporated into these conventional weapons without informing armed forces personnel that depleted uranium is a radioactive material and without procedures for measuring doses to operating personnel. Highly enriched uranium can be diluted, or “blended down” with depleted, natural, or very low-enriched uranium to produce 3 to 5 percent low-enriched reactor fuel.

Uranium metal at various enrichments must be chemically processed so that it can be blended into a homogeneous material at one enrichment level.

First discovered in the 18th century, uranium is an element found everywhere on Earth, but mainly in trace quantities.

In 1938, German physicists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann showed that uranium could be split into parts to yield energy.

Moreover, the half-lives of the principal radioactive components of mill tailings, thorium-230 and radium-226 are long, being about 75,000 years and 1,600 years respectively.

The most serious health hazard associated with uranium mining is lung cancer due to inhaling uranium decay products.

The total volume of mill tailings generated in the U. is over 95 percent of the volume of all radioactive waste from all stages of the nuclear weapons and power production.

While the hazard per gram of mill tailings is low relative to most other radioactive wastes, the large volume and lack of regulations until 1980 have resulted in widespread environmental contamination.

As a result, the health and environmental risks of blending are similar to those for uranium conversion and enrichment. So far, the NRC has been using guidelines developed by its staff in 1981 to oversee decommissioning efforts. regulations, however, cover a period of 1,000 years for mill tailings and at most 500 years for “low-level” radioactive waste.

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